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From Dark 'till Dawn

Let's explore a totally-not-haunted mansion together; what lies in store for Lucy?

By S.N. EvansPublished 2 months ago 13 min read
From Dark 'till Dawn
Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

Standing before the painting, appraising the figures, Lucy could not deny the similarities between the woman and herself—the woman holding a baby in absurd white ruffles. Wine-colored hair framed her heart-shaped face and a button nose. She and Lucy shared the same features. Chewing her lip, Lucy moved on, shining her flashlight on the darker areas of the room, snapping pictures with her camera, praying that she had enough memory to get all the images she wanted. Falhurst Manor was an absolute mystery until its caretaker recently passed on. When her friend Lydia called her to explore the legendary time capsule, she had no choice but to take the long drive from the city to see it.

Lucy Morrow loved exploring and documenting old historical sites. She had made quite a name online, and the old manor provided an array of potential content. Lydia had given her a short tour of the house before leaving Lucy to do her work, handing her a spare estate key and reminding her to lock up before she left. Lucy was giddy as Christmas. Everywhere she looked spoke of late Victorian splendor and aristocracy. With the drop-cloth-clad furniture and a thick layer of dust, Lucy could not help but wonder what the caretaker had cared for. Though she supposed they kept out vagrants and urban explorers, that could be enough.

A large picture of a woman with large dark eyes and long burgundy hair sat with her hand in her lap, a solemn look on her face sat on top of the mantle. Lucy could easily imagine this woman as the mistress of the house, ordering around servants and children. No, she reminded herself, all portraits looked sullen because they would have to sit for a long time while film developed or sit for hours while painting. The longer Lucy stared at the woman, the more familiar her features seemed.

Ghosting from room to room, Lydia took out her journal and began sketching out the floor plan and listening to the types of objects in each room. She was so engrossed with the dining room, small ballroom, and two dens that she lost track of time. It was dark outside, and Lucy had yet to ascend the stairs. As her hand brushed the railing, she envisions children using it as a slide. She saw silken gloves descending it and ascending it. Above were the private quarters. She did not want to leave yet, though the place had no light. She needed to know what was in the rest of the rooms—flicking on her. Flashlight, she continued categorizing rooms and their things from the main floor to the servants' quarters at the top.

As she descended the stairs, she caught sight of the kitchen and investigated that, too. It was a typical, modern kitchen. Someone had updated it. She hoped someone had invested in a breaker box. She could see if she could manage to get even a little power. Looking around, she saw a cupboard door on one end of the kitchen, the door leading outside, and a third door, which gave her pause. The door had six sliding locks, a bolt, and a padlock. She shivered. What could they possibly need so many locks for? She shook her head, jingling the keys. She wanted to try and unlock it but thought better of it.

Lucy’s curiosity got the better of her. There was no reason to be afraid; this house had sat abandoned for years, and a sudden mystery would vex her. She made a deal with herself: if none of the keys worked, she would leave it alone until Lydia returned the next day. There was also the realization that danger was another reason to lock the basement up. Contemplating what to do, she took a picture of the locks, tried the keys, and left unsatisfied. Looking at her camera’s battery, she sighed. It was either time for a battery change or to go for the night.

Lydia had assured Lucy that it was no trouble at all for her to stay at her house. Lydia usually stayed out late with friends getting drinks, so it was okay for Lucy to crash wherever. Gathering up her equipment bag and putting away her camera, Lucy made it out to her old truck, tossed everything into the passenger seat, and revved the engine— it sputtered. She tried many times to get the same result. Lucy had never done this before. Pulling out her phone, she attempted to call the mechanic, but there was no signal. Staying seated, she wondered what she should do next.

Alone in the middle of nowhere, in a decrepit manor, was not her idea of a comfortable evening, but she had managed more desperate circumstances. Drumming on her steering wheel, she considered sleeping in the car. At least then, there would be locks, but it might get cold. There had been a nip in the air recently, and the house might provide a slightly better buffer from the cold. There were locks on the house, too, so she would be fine—right?

Sighing, she gathered a few supplies, popped a fresh battery in her camera, and grabbed her lighter. She had seen a room upstairs that seemed less dusty than the others. She could camp there for the night and take some last pictures in the morning. The last thing she grabbed after taking the lot inside was the emergency blanket from the trunk. Locking the vehicle, she used her flashlight to guide her upstairs to what would have been the master of the house’s room. Piling everything on the floor, she nipped downstairs to lock the door.

Everything looked spookier in the dark. The flashlight only dispersed the shadows within a single shaft of light. Lucy had never been the easiest to scare, so she lit the oil lamps scattered about the bedroom. She gritted her teeth and cringed, remembering that no one had lit them in forever. She wondered if the oil was still good and made a mental note to research later.

Lucy spent some time documenting the house in her travel journal, sketching out the floorplan as best as she could remember and flipping through the images on her camera’s small screen to jog her memory. She also drew and labeled as much of the room she was in as she could. A beautiful four-poster bed with velvet curtains sat as the room's centerpiece. The lamp light from the spines shows shelves of untouched books with glittering gilded letters. She would get up and document what the books were later.

A roll-top desk sat in the corner half open, and she could not stop herself from snooping. Gently pushing the top of the desk up, it did not roll easily, but it opened to her after some effort. There were many drawers to explore, and papers piled up. Pulling a lamp closer, she went through them, piling the correspondences in one pile and the documents in another. She was sure Lucy would appreciate it later when she came looking for sales information for the house.

The drawers had small brass labels, but she could not make them out in this dim light. Opening it made a slight screeching noise as she pulled it out. It was heavier than she anticipated. Inside was a rusty ring of keys. A paper label on them said “Basement” in sepia-colored splattery ink. Good, she grinned. She could explore the basement in the morning and complete her house documentation.

Content with what she found, she listed off the novels: The Woman in White, Dracula, Carmilla, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Castle of Otranto, The Monk, Frankenstein, A Collection of Edger Allen Poe, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Turn of the Screw. She also found a stack of Penny Dreadful booklets. At the bottom, she found more modern horror stories and a case of journals. Someone had a penchant for horror stories. Considering it momentarily, she nodded her head. She had acquired a new reading list.

Spreading out her emergency blanket on the mattress of the four-post bed, she snuffed every lamp but one and turned down the wick so that it barely burned. She could not stand the idea of complete darkness. It was around 9 pm when she finally fell asleep. It was still dark when she woke up with the urge to pee. Getting up, she remembered the lamp and used it to light the way. There was a bathroom down the hall. She knew the plumbing probably didn’t work, but she had no choice.

She went to the hallway. Peering out into the darkness, she clapped her hand over her shoulder, trying not to shriek. Someone else stood at the end of the hallway, holding a lamp. Lucy almost dropped it before she realized she was staring at herself. Creasing her brow, she began stepping toward the mirror, reaching out with her left hand. Lucy touched the glass. It was cold beneath her touch, and she chuckled at herself.

Come on, Lucy, way to make something out of nothing.

Lucy blamed the horror stories on the shelf and the creepiness of the manor. Quickly taking care of business, she returned to the room and laid back down. It was midnight, and the adrenaline from her fright made it difficult for her to get back to sleep. Groaning, she tossed and turned, but it was to no avail. She sat up, stretched, and looked down at her watch. She must have dozed a little. It was now three in the morning. Lucy’s brow furrowed, and standing immediately, she saw the glow of light from downstairs.

Lucy picked up her flashlight and moved to close the door, but when she looked outside, she locked eyes with a woman with long flowing hair, milky eyes, and chalk-white skin. Lucy slammed the door and locked it. Taking the chair from the roll-top desk, she wedged it beneath the knob for good measure. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and Lucy backed up toward the bed. She shook her head. Whatever the woman was, she wasn’t normal. The brass knob jiggled as though someone was trying to open it, followed by a scraping noise like an animal trying to get in.

“Whatever you are, go away!” Lucy yelled, trembling, “I mean you no harm, and I will leave if you let me out.”

“Baby, what makes you think we want to let you out, sweet girl.” A sweet voice came behind her, “It’s been ages since we had a guest.”

Lucy jumped and backed away from the source of the voice. The scraping stopped at the door, “What do you want with me?”

“We want you to free us.” The woman’s voice returned, “You have the keys, unlock the vault.”

“What vault?” Lucy yelped.

“The one in the basement below. Break the seals and set the souls of this place free. Agree, and we will do you no harm.”

The hairs prickled at the back of Lucy’s neck. She had watched enough horror movies to know not to believe the voice; swallowing hard, she answered, “I’ll do my best.”

“Fair enough, you have until dawn.”

“What happens after dawn?”

“If you do not release us by dawn, we will not let you leave. Your soul will belong to the vault, too.” The voice took on a sharp edge, “You will become trapped like us.”

“Okay,” Lucy trembled.

“Go on, we’ll be watching, sweetie,” the voice said, and Lucy felt alone. No sounds were coming from behind the door and shaking. She did not know if she should believe the voice. Having seen enough horror stories, part of her knew better than to take the words of strange entities at face value.

Pacing the room for a few minutes, Lucy mentally argued between her logic and self-preservation instinct. Looking over at the desk, she saw the ring of basement keys. Remembering the case of journals, Lucy pulled it out and sat it on the desk. Using one of the basement keys, she opened it and found it was not full of journals but photo albums of newspaper clippings. Yellowed and cracking, time had not been kind to the paper in the albums, and most had crumbled to dust– the ones that remained all detailed reports on mysterious deaths over the decades in Falhurst manor.

Eyes roving the most recent pages, she found a photograph of the wine-haired maiden in one of the articles. Beatrice Merrow and daughter Emily Merrow were missing. The house patron was interrogated and taken from the home, and Augustine Merrow became its owner. Lucy frowned, looking for patterns among the missing. They were all girls and women, and the men in their lives were left implicated in their absence. Lucy’s ability to reason pushed further into the need for self-preservation. If all the missing women had lived through this choice and gotten trapped in this house, then she had an obligation to free them. Lucy chewed her lip, but what was taking them?

Looking through everything in the room, she found all the answers she could find. She did not want to leave the safety of the room. Lucy at least had to try to leave the house. Moving toward the narrow window, she attempted to open it, but it held fast. Her only other option was the front door, opening the bedroom door and leaving herself open to whatever entity was outside. Moving the chair, she put her ear on the door and heard nothing.

Opening the door, Lucy peeked outside and again jumped at the mirror but calmed down, breathing through the fright. There was a light downstairs in the kitchen. Walking down, she kept her eyes on the door. Moving toward it, she attempted to twist the bolt lock, but it would not budge. She pulled on it with all her might but to no reward. She wanted to scream in frustration but heard something move behind her. Turning, a woman sat in one of the chairs, a full tea service in front of her. She was the same white-haired woman Lucy had seen upstairs.

“I’d ask you if you want tea, but you have a job.” She chuckled, her voice chuckled melodically.

Lucy felt awkward, peering at the locked door.

“Yes, that’s it. That’s the door you need to open, and then you need to descend.”

“How do I know you’re not what’s keeping the spirits trapped here?” Lucy managed to question.

“I suppose you don’t, but you don’t have a choice.”

“You’re keeping me here. What’s keeping you here?”

“Enough questions, sweetie, it’s already four. You don’t have much time before dawn. Be a dear and unlock the basement door.”

Lucy moved toward the entity and the door with the keys in her hand. Once she passed the entity, she focused on the locks. Unlocking one lock at a time, she let the padlocks drop to the floor. The door hung loose on its hinges and swung out quickly. Looking back, Lucy hoped to see the entity and ask her if she needed to go down, hoping that opening it was enough– no luck.

The smell below was stale and moist, like mildew and mushrooms. Grateful it was not a more putrid smell, Lucy shined her flashlight down. The steps were stone and cracked but looked sturdy enough to hold her weight. The papered walls above gave way to more of a tunnel-like cellar than a basement. The temperature changed as Lucy went down, and her teeth started chattering. Tucking one of her cold hands under her armpit, she swept her flashlight across the space below. The ceiling was barely above Lucy’s head.

As Lucy’s flashlight swept the space, she saw flickering shadows from the corners of her eyes. She could almost see her breath. Her arms broke out in gooseflesh. There was a metal safe at the back, peculiar symbols scratched into its rusting black enamel. It had chains and two padlocks wrapped around it. There was also a keyhole and turn handle on the safe’s face.

Lucy had come this far. She might as well undo the locks. Fiddling with the keys, she found three that looked likely, and the padlocks snapped open. The chains made a loud rattle as they slid away.

Lucy gritted her teeth and kneeled. She opened the safe. Its door swung open, and the key remained in its lock. Inside was a wooden case with similar markings drawn over it. It had a sliding lid. Opening it, inside the lid, was a vial. She held the vial up to her flashlight. It had a strange amber color to it. Putting it back into the box, Lucy turned and went upstairs, again careful not to bump into the peculiar jars. The warm-toned dawn light shone through the open door as she ascended the stairs.

Numbly, Lucy grabbed her things and made her way out to her car. Putting the box and continuing the vial into her trunk, she dropped everything else into the back seat. Sliding into the driver’s side, she quickly started it.

“Where are we going, darling?” The entity asked from the passenger seat.

Lucy didn’t answer but shifted the car into drive–

Short StoryPsychologicalMysteryHorror

About the Creator

S.N. Evans

Christian, Writer of Fiction and Fantasy; human. I have been turning Caffeine into Words since 2007. If you enjoy my work, please consider liking, following, reposting on Social Media, or tipping. <3

God Bless!

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